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By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Toxic burn pit, cc via Bing

Update: President Biden has signed this measure into law.

August 5, 2022 (San Diego) – A bill to provide health care and benefits for millions of veterans exposed to toxins during their military service has passed the Senate by an overwhelming 86-11 vote, including 37 Republicans as well as all Democrats. The measure earlier passed the House 256-174.

Four of San Diego’s Congressional representatives voted in favor, but Rep. Darrell Issa, a former Army captain, voted against it despite his San Diego County district having one of the nation’s largest populations of active duty military members and veterans.

HR 3967, the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, is known as the  PACT Act. It will provide coverage for veterans exposed to burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq, Agent Orange in Vietnam and more.

Biden promises to sign bill into law

Photo, right:  President Biden cheers as Senate passes PACT Act

President Biden has pledged to sign the measure into law. For Biden, the issue is personal, since his son, Beau, died of brain cancer after exposure to burn pits serving in Iraq. Last week, when veterans protested outside the Capitol over some Republicans’ efforts to block the bill, Biden sent pizza to the protesters and held a video call with families while he was isolating due to COVID.

“While we can never fully repay the enormous debt we owe to those who have worn the uniform, today the United States Congress took important action to meet this sacred obligation,” Biden said upon passage by the Senate.  “I look forward to signing this bill, so that veterans and their families and caregivers impacted by toxic exposures finally get the benefits and comprehensive health care they earned and deserve.”

Military groups praise the PACT Act

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Commander Tim Borland hailed passage as a “landmark victory for veterans of all ages, of all conflicts and their families.  Too many of our veterans have suffered over the years from effects of toxic exposure, with no medical care, no recompense, and no support to their loved ones. They fought with everything they had to prove their illness-was service-connected and were delayed or denied care until death overtook them.”

Jeremy Butler, Chief Executive Officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, stated in a press release while the measure was pending in Congress, “This legislation will help the many thousands of veterans suffering from military toxic exposures, such as burn pits, who have inadequate access to VA benefits. It is comprehensive legislation that will address the needs of veterans that are suffering from toxic exposure by ensuring that they have the healthcare and benefits that they deserve.

Toxins in burn pits

The Department of Defense estimates that 3.5 million service members have been exposed to toxins, yet the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied around 75% of veterans’ burn pit claims.  The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found burn pits to be indefensible due to emissions potentially harmful to U.S. service members. Those toxins include dioxin, the same chemical found in Agent Orange, as well as benzene, particulate matter, hexachlorobenzene, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons among others.

Such toxins can cause cancer, respiratory disorders such as emphysema and asthma, high blood pressure,  increased risk of birth defects, and low sperm count, researchers have found.


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